NBA Daily: Upward Trends For The Utah Jazz


The Utah Jazz are starting to heat up.

Yes, they are still one game under .500. They are still a few games outside of the playoff picture in the West. Donovan Mitchell still hasn’t found the same magic he found near the end of last season in the playoffs.

But they’ve looked mightily impressive in their last five outings. After a disappointing loss in Mexico City to the Orlando Magic, they’ve gone 3-2.

They lost by five visiting the Houston Rockets in a down-to-the-wire game where James Harden went nuclear, scoring 47 points. Two days later they beat a full-strength Golden State Warriors team by five at home, and it definitely wasn’t an “off” game for the reigning champions. They then went on to rout the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder by one on the second night of a back-to-back and finally handled the Blazers again on national television Christmas night.

Just about every team in the NBA would be totally fine going 3-2 during that stretch. Most wouldn’t even be mad with 3-2. But the Jazz had a legitimate chance to go perfect.

The Jazz have been far from impressive this season. Many had them pegged as a three seed and some even as a two, but now it’s looking like they’ll have to fight to even make the playoffs in the loaded West. Many excuses can be made for their play – they’ve looked tired some games due to their brutal schedule, their offense just hasn’t clicked yet and their defense hasn’t been anywhere close to where it was last year – but it feels like some of those things have started to change over the last couple of weeks.

They now have the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the West to close out the season, and their gameplay has started to look a lot more consistent.

The Jazz are clearly not an offensive juggernaut. They have a system that definitely works, but they aren’t known to pour in buckets. Their bread and butter is defense, and early on in the season it just wasn’t working.

Last year, the Utah Jazz finished the regular season at 16th in offensive rating and were first in defensive rating at 102.9. So far this season, they have climbed up to sixth place at 105.1. Over the last 10 games, they’re in second place at 99. The last five games they’re in first place at an opponent-crippling 97.3. It is safe to say the Jazz are back to their dominating defensive ways.

A large part of this can be attributed to the man in the middle, Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower has been playing tremendous basketball as of late. Over the last 10 games, he’s boasted a 97.8 defensive rating. Crazy enough, that is only good for seventh on the team during that span. He has a team-high defensive rebounding percentage of 25.1 during the 10 game stretch and is sixth in the league at blocks per game at 2.2.

Numbers aside, Gobert’s sheer presence in the paint is part of what makes him so dominant. His 7-foot-9 wingspan and freakishly athletic frame – when comparing it to his size – are such a presence on the court that they can alter shots most players wouldn’t even dream of challenging.

The Jazz run a great defensive scheme that oftentimes funnels backcourt players into the key. They are then faced with either Gobert at the rim or pulling up for a less efficient mid-range jump shot. This stat by David Locke – radio voice for the Jazz – shows just how great their system has run this season.

By forcing opponents to take more mid-range shots, the Jazz are essentially forcing opponents to beat them by making a bunch of 15-19 footers. That isn’t the easiest thing to do.

What has been getting lost in all of the Gobert noise is just how stellar Joe Ingles has been playing on the defensive end. Yes, the smack-talking, three-ball shooting Ingles. Most don’t realize how good he is on the defensive end. Don’t let his frame fool you. He is long and can be quicker than you think.

During Utah’s last 10 games, Ingles leads the team in defensive rating at 91.2. He’s also a positive 8.9 plus-minus during that same span, leading the all other Jazz players by over three full points.

The thing that makes Ingles stick out from the average NBA wing is his high basketball IQ. He always makes sure his body is in position to be as effective as possible, and he almost never gets caught sleeping on defense. He’s always working, trying to get in passing lanes or poke the ball out of the opponent’s hands. He can often be an irritant, which is a great thing on the defensive end.

With Ingles on the court, the Jazz have a positive 7.3 net rating, good for highest on the team. When Ingles is off the court, the Jazz are a negative 10.3 net rating. That change is significant. As important as Gobert is to the success of the team, Ingles might be the key player to Utah’s success.

Ingles has struggled offensively compared to the last two seasons. Two years ago, he shot 44.1 percent from three, and last year he shot 44 percent, but so far this year he is a down to 38.7. He is averaging career-highs in both points per game and assists per game, so that is definitely a good sign. He’s also shot 41.9 percent from three over the last five games, so maybe he is breaking out of his early-season slump. Regardless of the numbers, Ingles impact for the Jazz has been immensely important this season and isn’t captured completely by statistics.

Obviously, the most important thing the Jazz have to do in order to win games is make shots. On the season, the Jazz have struggled mightily from three. To date, they are 23rd in the league at 34.3 percent. The last 10 games – about the time Kyle Korver joined their ranks – they’ve started to improve. Over that stretch, they have been 14th in the league at 35.4 percent.

Another type of shot that has been incredibly detrimental to the Jazz is the 5-9 foot range. On the season, they are a morbid 33.5 percent, good for third to last in the league. In the last 10 games, however, they’ve shot 43.1 percent from that same range, good for sixth in the league. The Jazz shoot that shot on average at a 40 percent clip in all their wins, so it is obviously important to their success.

Much can be said about their season thus far. They’ve already made moves in the trade market and with the deadline quickly approaching they might strike a few more deals to try and improve their roster. But one thing is certain – the Jazz are headed in the right direction.

Last season, it took until late January to turn their season around. They were nine games below .500 and still managed to get to the second round of the playoffs. Currently, they only sit one game below .500 and have a highly favorable schedule to finish out the season. Not to mention, we haven’t even hit January yet.

Utah certainly hasn’t exceeded expectations this season, but things are clearly trending upwards. Getting their defense back on track has been monumental to their recent success.